Fast food is generally considered to be very unhealthy, but some meals are worse than others. So, what’s the least-healthy restaurant meal in the United States? Although you might expect it to be some enormous triple bacon and cheese combo from one of our many fast food burger joints, it’s actually one that includes a main course typically thought of as healthy: fish. But according to the CSPI, or Center for Science and the Public Interest, the organization that rated the meals, this particular meal is unhealthy not because it includes fish, but because of how the fish is prepared and what comes with it.
The meal in question, if you haven’t already deduced from the image at right, is the Big Catch with Onion Rings meal available at Long John Silver’s, a fast-food restaurant specializing in fish and seafood.
Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, Sodium Galore in Fast Food Dish
The Big Catch with Onion Rings includes a 7 to 8-ounce filet of deep fried haddock, hush puppies, which are deep fried cornmeal batter, for those unfamiliar with the southern staple, and of course, onion rings – which are also deep fried. It sounds heavy and greasy, without a doubt, but the list of what’s included still isn’t enough to prepare you for the shocking nutritional facts:
- Trans fat: 33 grams
- Saturated Fat: 19 grams
- Sodium: 3,700 milligrams
- Calories: 1,350
First, it should be noted that plenty of other restaurant meals contain well over 1,350 calories, despite the fact that most people are advised to consume about 2,000 calories over the course of the entire day. The biggest problem with the Big Catch, according to the CSPI, is the incredible amount of trans fat included. Thirty-three grams is over 16-times higher than the maximum 2 grams per day recommended by the American Heart Association, and for ideal health, people shouldn’t be consuming any trans fat at all.
Both saturated fat and trans fat are believed to contribute to obesity and heart disease. Although recent studies do indicate that saturated fat may not be as universally harmful as once believed, there’s little argument today in the medical community about the very real dangers of trans fat. Meanwhile, the 3,700 milligrams of sodium contained in the Big Catch – more than double what a person should consume in a single day – contributes to high blood pressure.
But Fish is Healthy, Right?
By itself, fish is certainly healthy. Filets of fish, especially oily varieties, contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy and contribute to a balanced diet. Prepared using healthy cooking methods like steaming, grilling and baking, fish is an excellent meal choice.
The problems start to arise, as you’ve probably guessed, when fish is prepared in the deep fryer instead. However, while deep frying alone would explain the high levels of saturated fat in the Big Catch, the culprit behind the off-the-charts levels of trans fat is the partially hydrogenated oil in which Long John Silver’s fries their foods. Partially hydrogenated oil is essentially pure trans fat, and the vast majority of fast-food chains – including notoriously deep-fry-crazy KFC – have long abandoned it in favor of healthier frying mediums like canola oil.
Oh, and that 8-ounce haddock filet that serves as the main course in the Big Catch? It’s actually only 4.5 ounces of real fish, and over 3 ounces of fried batter, which further helps to explain why over 50 grams of total fat are contained in the meal.
In all fairness, it should be mentioned that Long John Silver’s does offer menu options aside from deep fried ones, and those items have considerably lower levels of trans fat. However, the reality remains that the restaurant is best known for its fried foods, which are unfortunately prepared using partially hydrogenated oils instead of healthier alternatives.
The Bottom Line
The Big Catch with Onion Rings has been given the shameful status of worst restaurant meal in America by the Center for Science and the Public Interest. The meal is incredibly unhealthy because all the included items are deep fried in partially hydrogenated oil, which adds over 30 grams of trans fat.